Interview: Jonathan Ive, Apple's creative force

Apple's design chief Jonathan Ive gave his first in-depth interview to John Arlidge of the Sunday Times in London and describes what motivates and troubles him
Written by Jason D. O'Grady, Contributor

He's notoriously introverted, he shuns the spotlight and he doesn't give interviews. In fact, Apple's Senior Vice President of Design – Jonathan 'Jony' Ive – refuses speak publicly about the company at all, save a smattering of carefully-scripted promotional videos in which he gushes over newly minted products.

Image: Apple

The reclusive and secretive Ive granted his first in-depth interview to John Arlidge of the Sunday Times in London (paid sub required), which is cross posted at Time.com (free). In it Ive speaks openly about his philosophy about making things rather than designing them ("Everyone I work with shares the same love of and respect for making") and the resurgence of the idea of craft.

It's evident by the massively popular products that his team produces that Ive cares a lot about his creations and this is a central theme in the interview. Ive doesn't tolerate mediocrity and he sheds some light on what drives him to obsess about the details:

We’re surrounded by anonymous, poorly made objects. It’s tempting to think it’s because the people who use them don’t care — just like the people who make them. But what we’ve shown is that people do care. It’s not just about aesthetics. They care about things that are thoughtfully conceived and well made. 

Ive is humble and unassuming, but he's also astutely aware of impact that his products make on society, telling Arlidge: "We make and sell a very, very large number of (hopefully) beautiful, well-made things. Our success is a victory for purity, integrity — for giving a damn."

What initially drew Ive to Apple was its simplicity, in the interview he reveals that after 'having such problems with computers” during his student years that he feared he was "technically inept."

Ive's design sensibility and unique desire to understand how things work (from the inside out) led him to helm the design team at a company worth almost $500 billion. Ive's small team consists of only about 15 people hailing from Britain, America, Japan, Australia and New Zealand. "Most of us have worked together for 15 to 20 years. We can be bitterly critical of our work. The personal issues of ego have long since faded.”

On the intimacy of products

Ive notes that users have an extremely personal relationship with the mobile products that his team creates: "The product you have in your hand, or put into your ear, or have in your pocket, is more personal than the product you have on your desk. The struggle to make something as difficult and demanding as technology so intimately personal is what first attracted me to Apple. People have an incredibly personal relationship with what we make.”

On Steve Jobs

Ive shared a couple of colorful anecdotes about the late Steve Jobs, who died in 2010. He recalls traveling with Jobs: "We’d get to the hotel where we were going, we'd check in and I'd go up to my room. I'd leave my bags by the door. I wouldn’t unpack. I'd go and sit on the bed and wait for the inevitable call from Steve: 'Hey Jony, this hotel sucks. let's go.'"

When asked if Jobs was tough as people say, Ive is quick to defend his former boss and close friend: "So much has been written about Steve, and I don't recognize my friend in much of it. Yes, he had a surgically precise opinion. Yes, it could sting. Yes, he constantly questioned. 'Is this good enough? Is this right?' but he was so clever. His ideas were bold and magnificent. They could suck the air from the room. And when the ideas didn’t come, he decided to believe we would eventually make something great. And, oh, the joy of getting there!"

On IP and price

When asked about seeing his designs so widely copied, Ive exclaims "It’s theft. What’s copied isn’t just a design, it's thousands and thousands of hours of struggle. It's only when you've achieved what you set out to do that you can say, 'This was worth pursuing.' It takes years of investment, years of pain."

You can tell that Ive is personally offended when his designs are blatantly copied and that he feel a tangible loss when it happens. It turns out that creating life-changing products and manufacturing them to Apple's exacting specifications is extremely expensive: "We don’t take so long and make the way we make for fiscal reasons. Quite the reverse," notes Ive.

The interview is an excellent read for anyone interested in the creative visionary behing Apple's most successful products. You can read it in full at Time.com.

If you're interested in learning more about Jony Ive, I also highly recommend Leander Kahney's excellent book Jony Ive: The Genius Behind Apple's Greatest Products (Amazon).

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